During my impressionable (and wildly misspent) youth as a Neanderthal metalhead, I never had much use for female-fronted acts. I may have respected Doro and Lita Ford and wanted to spend some private time with them (to talk), but to me, metal was a man’s world. It wasn’t until I heard Mandylion, the first The Gathering album to feature Anneke van Giersbergen, that my opinion was changed forever. Her performance on that album, and the albums that followed (especially Nighttime Birds and How to Measure a Planet), simply blew me away. Here was a creature of pure grace, power and conviction and that voice was as close as this world will ever come to hearing a siren’s call. Impossible to ignore or resist, her presence made those albums work in ways no one else could. Though The Gathering drifted further and further away from metal on each release, I was okay with it as long as Anneke remained at the helm. With her departure in 2007, my interest in The Gathering was instantly torpedoed. I’ll admit I gave the first Anneke-less release, 2009’s The West Pole, very little attention and essentially wrote it off after a spin or two. Now that I’m a “semi-professional” reviewer, I no longer have the luxury of “writing things off,” so here I am with Disclosure, the newest non-Anneke release. As with The West Pole, Disclosure sees Silje Wergeland (ex-Octavia Sperati) replacing Anneke on the mic and overall, the band continues the drift into indie goth-rock soundscapes. While this would undoubtedly be more palatable with Anneke, Disclosure is a pleasant, mostly satisfying slice of mellow, moody, atmospheric music with some excellent vocals from Silje. Sporting just enough of the band’s old charm to keep me interested, there’s some good stuff here and I can’t deny it. It’s not good enough to make me forget the sheer majesty of the older material, but it’s easily good enough to make me revisit The West Pole with a less jaundiced eye. Since Steel Druhm is notoriously stubborn, inflexible and intractable, that alone should tell you something.
Disclosure is not an aggressive album. Tracks like “Paper Waves” rely primarily on a floating, gothic vibe somewhere between The Cure, fellow countrymen Autumn and old U2. Silje’s vocals are smooth and seductive, often soothing and hypnotic in delivery. Songs like “Paralized” have a big How to Measure a Planet vibe and Silje does her best to be as ethereal and seductive as Anneke, and to her credit, she does a great job. “Heroes for Ghosts” takes that approach even further and over it’s almost eleven minute length, it mines all that was good about the classic The Gathering sound to craft a sullen, haunting work of introspective goth-rock. The inclusion of brass horns at various points lends an interesting and touching emotional weight to the proceedings that mix well with Silje’s beautiful and ghostly vocals.
Personally, I think the band hits their stride on the more aggressive, powerful tracks like “Gemini I,” which approximate the lilting but forceful material from the Nighttime Birds era. Here, the guitars get to pack more punch and Silje belts out her lines with more power and urgency. Sadly, Disclosure largely stays in soft-goth mode and eschews the heavier side of their sound.
Disclosure sees the band experimenting with electronica (something they’ve toyed with on and off since How to Measure a Planet), and songs like “Meltdown” and “I Can See Four Miles” use it as a mood setter. Particularly with the latter, where it’s used to give a somewhat edgy, distorted sound to what is otherwise a conventional goth-rock outing. While I don’t mind the electronic elements, both songs suffer from being overlong and have issues maintaining flow. “Meltdown” has an awkward first half with listless and dull male vocals, but the back half corrects nicely and Silje’s performance partially redeems the song. “I Can See Four Miles” is less successful at maintaining the listener’s attention and while moments here and there are soothing and trance-like (again, on the back-end and thanks to Silje’s vocal work), overall it drags. Another problem is the sweet nothingness of “Missing Seasons” which passes by without much worth noticing.
Obviously, this is the Silje show and the material depends mightily on the strength of her vocals. In that, they chose well, since the woman has an impressive set of pipes that remind of Anneke without being a soulless imitation of her. Her impassioned performance is what makes Disclosure worthwhile and she manages to salvage some of the less than compelling material with a big performance. I appreciate the versatility of her voice and how easily she shifts from powerful singing to intimate, sensual crooning. Music-wise, the guitar work by Rene Rutten is often understated and inspired by The Cure and U2‘s The Edge. This keeps the music buoyant and pleasant, but leaves little room for power and energy in a metal sense. The keys by Frank Boiejen factor in as much or more than the guitar, and while I like a lot of soundscapes he generates, things can get too sweet and maudlin at times.
At the end of the day, The Gathering will never recapture the magic of those early albums with Anneke, but they can still craft worthwhile and memorable music. I wish it was heavier and these guys are definitely on the bubble of what is considered “metal.” In fact, I doubt we will review them again in the future (because we’re so KVLT!!!). Still, I ended up enjoying this, despite coming in with unshakably negative preconceptions. If you like soft goth-rock with excellent vocals, Disclosure will certainly work for you. By the way, I hate that album cover, but I still love Anneke!